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All About Menstrual Cycle

Us, women, may experience a monthly cycle called menstruation or a period. Since our bodies are different from one another, symptoms may vary between us; but it can include cramps, bloating, acne breakouts, sore breasts, fatigue, and mood swings.


Photo: Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (1928)


During the menstruation journey, we may face different phases and hormone changes. Although sometimes the timeline is irregular, the period cycle usually has two main phases; the follicular phase and the luteal phase.


The menstrual cycle starts on the first day of your period and ends when your next period begins. Menstrual cycles can range from 24 to 38 days and each cycle may vary in length. The first part of the menstrual cycle, the follicular phase, is when the body is preparing for an egg to be released from the ovaries and when the uterine lining becomes thicker. The time range for this phase is from the beginning of menstruation (your period) to the day of ovulation when an egg is released from the ovary.


The second part of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase, is when the uterus is being prepared for implantation and the body is ready to accept a fertilized egg if present. If a fertilized egg is not present, the next cycle begins. The luteal phase is between ovulation and before the start of menstruation.



FOLLICULAR PHASE


The follicular phase starts from day one of your cycle. This is the phase when we have recently lost some blood, so our body has a greater need for iron. Also, due to the shedding of the uterine lining during this time, there are a few days of increased inflammation. But hydration is easier during this lower hormone phase, and you have a more even, cooler body temperature. During menstruation, the pituitary gland releases a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which signals the ovaries to prepare an egg for ovulation.


Nutrient and Diet During Follicular Phase


A well-balanced diet may play a role in optimizing the various phases of the menstrual cycle. This is when we know that nutrition plays a significant role in overall health. During this phase, we can focus on consuming foods consisting of some of these nutrients:

  • Iron & B Vitamins: may help with blood cell production

  • Vitamin C: helps to absorb plant sources of iron

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: help to regulate your menstrual cycle, and are anti-inflammatory

  • Zinc: reduces inflammation


Other than nutrients, we need to focus on regulating our diet. As a start, omega-3s act as the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting and inflammation. Examples of high Omega-3 food sources are egg, salmon, sardines, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, spinach, and brussels sprouts.


Aside from omega-3s, our body also needs fibers. Fibers help regulate blood sugar levels and support digestive health. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of fibres. Calcium and vitamin D are also essential nutrients for bone health. This may include dairy products, fortified plant-based milk, leafy greens, and small fish with bones in your diet.



OVULATION


After the follicular phase, ovulation occurs; it takes place in the middle of our cycle—usually 14 days before menses—when an egg is released from an ovary and travels to the fallopian tube for potential fertilization. You may notice a rise in your body temperature during this time, as well as pain or stiffness in your hips.


The dominant follicle produces more estrogen and gets larger. The brain senses this as a signal to allow an increase in luteinizing hormone (LH) which causes the egg to be released into the fallopian tube.


Nutrient and Diet during Ovulation Phase


Our dietary choices can influence ovulation. Our body will need carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidant-rich foods, and foods with vitamin D and folic acid. The glycaemic index is a number scale that rates how quickly our bodies can convert the carbs in a food into glucose.


Carbohydrates, such as most fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, minimally processed grains, and low-fat dairy products, are generally considered low-glycemic index foods. The glycemic index is a number scale that rates how quickly our bodies can convert the carbs in a food into glucose—in other words, how quickly food causes blood sugar levels to rise.


We may also add some of these nutrients to our dietary plan during the ovulation phase:

  • Antioxidant: may help reduce oxidative stress

  • Vitamin C: important for the growth of the Graafian follicles

  • Vitamin D: may help endocrine processes and the steroid genesis of reproductive hormones

  • Vitamin E: may help to restore the balance and increase the sense of calm to reduce oxidative stress


Berries and almonds support hormonal balance and reduce inflammation which usually happens in this phase. Berries are rich in antioxidants and fiber, while almonds are high in healthy fats and protein. Berries can help reduce inflammation. Almonds promote hormonal balance during ovulation. During ovulation, the body is under stress as it prepares to release an egg. One should have avocados, as they are a good source of healthy fats and Vitamin E.



LUTEAL PHASE


In the ovary during the luteal phase or post-ovulation, the follicle that contains the egg transforms into a corpus luteum which produces progesterone and estrogen. The release of these hormones is why women experience menstrual symptoms. If the egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum will break down 9 to 11 days after ovulation and the body is preparing for menstruation; this is what we call the premenstrual phase.


Nutrient and Diet during Luteal Phase


The luteal phase can bring on PMS, hunger, and cravings. During this phase, we need to remember to stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can also reduce bloating during this phase, as well as brain fog.


During these weeks, you will probably feel hungrier than usual. This is completely normal. Our body uses up 5-10% more calories during this premenstrual phase. Don’t fight it and listen when your body is telling you to eat.


Thus, we may need to add more of these nutrients during this premenstrual phase:

  • Protein & fat: can be used as an energy to prepare for a potential pregnancy

  • Fiber: manage blood sugar level

  • Complex carbohydrates: gain energy and help curb hunger

  • Magnesium: reduces fluid retention


Further, if you are craving a sweet or salty snack, dark chocolate, fruit, nuts, and seeds are good substitutes. Pumpkin seeds, which contain high amounts of magnesium, can also help reduce fluid retention.


Overall, the most important thing we need to pay attention to during these cycles is ourselves and what our body needs. It is indeed a process but once we know ourselves better we will be able to give what it needs.


 

References:












https://health.clevelandclinic.org/nutrition-and-exercise-throughout-your-menstrual-cycle

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